I Just Want My Broadband

How much would instant access to national security information be worth to you? Or instant delivery of healthcare advice? Or the ability to download a movie in hours instead of days?

Such questions hang in the background as waves of high-tech executives journey to Washington to plead for a national commitment to super high-speed Internet service for all Americans by the end of the decade.

They also hang like a pall over the news that Global Crossing, a major builder of high-speed Internet networks, has filed for bankruptcy.

"Broadband" access to the Net for all, say lobbyists from Silicon Valley, needs a visionary leap by government - something similar to putting a man on the moon. They say they don't want subsidies or tax breaks, though they would like some help untangling regulatory impediments and tax credits to encourage extending service to uneconomical rural or inner-city areas.

But what do users want? Will they pay about $50 a month for video downloads or quicker access to college courses? Currently, roughly 10 percent of American homes are paying for relatively low-tech broadband via cable modems or digital subscriber phone lines. The rate at which new households are signing up for this service declined over the past year.

The lobbyists have no doubt that higher-speed access will bring innovative products and a rush to sign up. Government can help along the way with easier regulation or tax incentives. But it's really up to the industry to convince consumers they just can't do without broadband.

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